Volunteers Deliver

A short story of plentiful and powerful volunteerism in Northfield, and how the new Northfield.org site came to be as a result

Chip Cuccio

Back in 2000, I vividly remember regularly perusing the "old" Northfield.org site - sometimes several times per day. And I did so from 1500 miles away. It was months before I was slated to relocate from the east coast to Northfield, and I used Northfield.org as a vehicle to become more familiar with the City. Simply by visiting Northfield.org regularly, and by reading the posts in the old Web Café, I sometimes felt almost like I was already here. I was thankful for the volunteers of Northfield.org back then - big time.

I had finally relocated to Northfield, and I felt quite familiar with our terrific city. I can't even begin to explain how happy I was to arrive here (and to live here!). I really enjoyed how active Northfield.org was (is!), and continued to be a regular reader / visitor of the site. But myself being computer / web geek for many years, I knew in the back of my mind, there was value I could offer to Northfield.org and to the community.

It was now December of 2001. My wife Melissa had come home from the Northfield Public Library with a little tear-off from a poster / flyer hanging in the lobby. It was information about a proposed local computer club, focusing on the Linux operating system (one of my hobbies and pet projects since the early 1990's). I immediately signed up to the electronic mailing list that was listed on the tear-off. I thought this was amazing, because years prior, I was the founder / President of a similar club (referred to as a "Linux User Group", or "LUG") when I lived back east. The first thing that came to mind was not only to become a member of the organization, but also a resource. This was the start of my involvement with volunteer activities in Northfield.

I kept in close contact with the founder of this proposed local LUG, as we attempted to build an actual organization and computer club. I offered to build and host the new website, and to get the new mailing list up and running. After the mailing list went live, the founder had e-mailed the new members of the group, asking for ideas of what we should name the new organization. Quite a few ideas were thrown around, and we eventually decided to implement the name "NORLUG" (NORthfield Linux Users Group). That name was coined by yours truly. Following the naming of the organization, I offered to draft our group's bylaws and constitution. The founder loved the idea, and so I drafted our governing documents. Later in the month of December of 2001, the documents were ratified, and our founder (and now my good friend, current NCO Board member, current NCO Technical Committee member, and Northfield Public Library Board member) Adam Gurno was elected President, and I was elected as VP for our new organization, NORLUG. Adam and I both served as officers for two consecutive terms before we "passed the torches."

Being involved with NORLUG enabled me to meet and collaborate with many other local and involved computer / web geeks (and volunteers). It was through NORLUG that I became acquainted (and later, very good friends) with Rob Brown (at the time, NCO Chairman, current NCO Board member, owner of badbrain computers, and current president of NORLUG!). Rob was heavily involved with Northfield.org and NCO, which led me to start offering some of my value to the same organization.

My fist role while volunteering for NCO / Northfield.org, was maintaining the non-profit, church, and education directories. I also helped out every now and again with some technical aspects of Northfield.org. I then started contributing a bit of content, specifically, some of the articles in the TECHNOrthfield column (which was Adam's terrific idea). However, content and writing isn't really my niche. Technology and web are.

For a while, I continued to provide technical consultation and assistance to NCO when it was needed. However, "as needed" turned into "relatively often". Former NCO Chair (and current Vice Chair) Bruce Morlan and I had a nice long meeting in town, along with another friend of mine (and NCO Board member, City Charter Commission member), Alex Beeby. During that meeting I was asked to consider a role as NCO Tech Committee Chairman. I (immediately) accepted the role, knowing that I could dedicate myself and my skills (in an official capacity) to NCO and Northfield.org. Needless to say, I was excited.

One of the first duties I performed as the new Tech Chair, was to evaluate and identify the limitations and shortcomings in the previous Northfield.org platform (the software that runs the weblog itself). Most of NCO and the content contributors knew that there were issues and oddities with the existing platform, so I set out to research, evaluate, test, and recommend a new platform - one that truly enabled citizen contributions and participation. After months of research, testing, proof-of-concepts, and recommendations, a new platform was chosen for Northfield.org. It was then my role to be the technical lead and project manager in order to actually implement and deploy the new site / platform.

Without going into too much technical detail, myself, and the rest of the NCO Tech Committee worked for months, setting up pilot and staging environments, planning, debating, and preparing for deploying the new platform. We had to import all of the legacy Northfield.org content into the new platform, which was less-than trivial. Sean Hayford O'Leary, one of the super-sharp Tech Committee members, was tasked with the design of the new site, which was also, less-than trivial.

Then the "big night" arrived. Migration / relaunch time. It was February 3, around 10-something PM. Myself, Sean, and Griff began preparing for the migration. When midnight rolled around, we all hung up from a conference call, and I began the task(s) of migrating to the new site from my home office. I was tasked to perform most of the actual, physical site migration and deployment, but I thought it would be nice to have some company and a technical resource to "look over my shoulders" as I perform this gargantuan task. Rob Brown offered to stay with me as I launched this new beast, and he did so. Midnight rolled around, and the relaunch had begun.

It was now 4:00 AM on Saturday, February 4. Rob had left my house about 30 minutes prior, as I was nearing completion of the relaunch and site migration. I quadruple-checked my work, just to make certain I hadn't missed anything from my mile-long task list. Everything functioned and looked good, so I went sleep for a few hours, hoping all of you folks would enjoy the new treat that morning when you sat down at your computers.

And here we are today. Using the new, excellent platform, with citizen contributions being submitted more frequently than ever. We've built exactly what Northfield had wanted - all from the incredible dedication, loyalty, and hard work of regular Northfield folks like you and me. The long trail of (unbelievably-involved) volunteers mentioned since the beginning of this story absolutely amazes me, and I haven't even touched on the many more volunteer-ism happening here in town. This project, Northfield.org, is just one small example of how volunteers deliver.

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I am truly amazed how N.org is a part of my daily life...

I don't think I can function without N.org. I check it everytime I check my e-mail to see what is new.

The concept of news by citizens, for citizens is just incredible. Its nice to get the news AS IT HAPPENS, instead of 3 or 4 days later... (or at all).

I too, had the same move story as Chip. I was an east coaster working for Travelers Insurance that transfered out here.

N.org was my first stop. When I physically got here, Griff was the first person I met.

I want to thank each and every person that worked on this site. It is a true testament to how great this community is.

Keep up the great work, and KUDOS to everyone!

-John Thomas